Greetings, dear traveler! I’ve got a special treat for you today: welcome to my tour spot for The Unbroken by C. L. Clark, a brilliant, breathtaking debut adult fantasy inspired by North Africa, which was just released on March 23, 2021!
Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.
- Protagonists of color
- LGBT protagonists
- F/F main characters
- M/M side characters
- Nonbinary side character
- Older women
- Depictions of colonial violence (physical and emotional) and destruction
- Past attempted rape
- Threats of rape
- Threats of torture
tl;dr: Do I recommend this book?
MY RATING: ★★★★★
“You’ll have to fight for one side or the other. Why not fight for the side that gives you freedom?”
In my eyes, fantasy is a perfect genre.
What’s not to love? Through fantasy, traveler, I can flee to far-flung, exciting realms unlike any land I have ever touched; gain the power to cut dragons from paper, chase monsters from a metropolis, or jump-start my car without much strife; and I can explore all the deadly complexities of life and living, framed with a subtle hint of magic.
Fantasy can be a receptacle for both discovery and education through its worldbuilding, characters, and commentary. (And it always makes me cry. 😃 Laugh the pain away!)
The Unbroken is an absolutely prime work of fantasy. I’m obsessed.
Let’s discuss it, traveler! (This review will be spoiler-free!)
A Shattered, Silver Universe
“El-Wast. City of marble and sandstone, of olives and clay.”
I appreciate books with settings that breathe! The Unbroken’s city of El-Wast, Qazāl, was as vivid and real as a human body: its crevices and alleyways, in which characters whisper for nefarious and righteous purposes alike, were veins — its citizens were the teeming blood cells set on fulfilling their chosen functions, struggling against the grain.
Sunlight mixed with stone. Sandstorms contrasted the relief of rain. The Unbroken’s world was incredibly layered, and it kept me curious and intrigued throughout the novel.
Qazāl is a colony of “Balladaire, land of honey and whips.” Readers never get to visit this grand nation — but Balladaire, being the oppressive body, echoes throughout every corner of El-Wast. When a sovereign nation is subjugated and colonized, it loses some of its identity. Forced to assimilate (or face the fatal consequences of dissent), colonized people must adopt the language and order of tyrants. The Unbroken examines this.
Speaking of language: I adored the way that language was integrated into The Unbroken. (Languages fascinate me, and I deeply appreciate anything related to linguistics!) Characters shift between the colonizer’s language, Balladairan, and Shālan, “the language of the broken southern empire.”
The timbre of Shālan is described in such a beautiful way. As I read about it, it was like I could hear the clicking of the speakers’ tongues and the sharp articulations of their words.
One of the novel’s protagonists, Touraine, struggles with her relationship with language. She was born in Qazāl, and Shālan was a language she knew better than her own thoughts. But after she was taken to be a soldier under the Balladairan military, her familiarity of the Shālan language became vestigial — which I, a child of immigrants in the United States, related with. I do not remember when my thoughts began to hum and murmur in English; Touraine’s contemplation became Balladairan, and she doesn’t remember how they shifted.
And speaking! Of Touraine!
To Know You Like I Know a Knife
Oh, my God. I love Touraine so much — she might be one of my new favorite characters in all literature.
Her experience as a colonized person living amongst colonizers will resonate with a lot of diaspora kids and individuals like me — and perhaps like you, too, traveler.
Touraine was starting to think it was impossible to come from one land and to live in another and feel whole. That you would always stand on shaky, hole-ridden ground, half of your identity dug out of you and tossed away.
And traveler — we can’t discuss Touraine without mentioning Luca, the analytical, cutthroat, disabled princess of Balladaire (and my heart) vying for the throne.
These two women toe the line between betrayal and trust — they are the gorgeous dissonance of a tritone seeking resolution. Touraine and Luca impressed on each other like ink spilled on a page. I felt conflicted over their bond, given their colonized-colonizer pairing — though The Unbroken does a good job at delving into the friction and contention that such a connection may cause.
(That being said: let’s go, lesbians. Let’s go. 😌)
“[Touraine] could see the shape of empire in Luca’s words.”
How the Rain Falls
Yo. Just — this book was my jam.
A Bunch of Stuff That I Loved
- It was definitely a slow-burn in its first half: I’m a sucker for slow burns.
- The novel took into account many political considerations: food prices, public approval, the relentless press — consequences for a government officials’ decisions in El-Wast were as real and tangible as packed soil in the ground.
- In the story’s eleventh hour, everything gets crazy. I was shaking.
- War encroached the characters throughout the book — and war kills all closeness.
- Twists, twists, twists. 🗣
- The book has chapter titles! All the best books have chapter titles! 😋
And most of all, The Unbroken explores anger — the beauty of anger: jealous anger, righteous anger, frustrated anger, restrained anger, painful anger, incredulous anger. Rage simmers in The Unbroken with such intricacy and care. The characters are allowed to be furious with their fates, and this fury develops into intention and determination, which guides them.
I appreciated that.
About The Author of THE UNBROKEN
Cherae has been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages or reading about war and post-colonial history. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, FIYAH, PodCastle, and Uncanny. The Unbroken is her debut novel.
Thank you for visiting my tour spot for The Unbroken! 💜 This book was an amazing surprise, and I hope that you enjoy it.
Be Sure to Check Out the Other Stops on the Tour!
I created a reading vlog on my Booktube channel about my experience reading The Unbroken!
Don’t miss a post! Coming up next on Sophie and Their Stories: an author interview!
Let’s connect across the Net! 💖